Is it possible to walk back from the brink of personal and societal oblivion?
The question is central to this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, fittingly entitled “Remember.” At the beginning of the episode, it is clear that Rick and the survivors have forgotten how to function in polite society. Both visually and in the way the group carries themselves indicate clearly that they have, at the moment when they arrive at the gates of the Alexandria enclave, devolved in many ways from people as we knew them in the pre-zombie-apocalypse world into a sort of neo-tribal group of roving barbarians. Darryl’s line about bringing dinner is doubly funny because it plays on this. It’s a moment of uncharacteristic civility which is all the more surreal given their highly civilized surroundings.
This episode is about decisions. Whether mere survival is enough or whether it right or possible to dream of something more and work towards building it. Rick has to decide if he still believes that people can come back and become something even remotely resembling what they were before the world changed. The symbolism of Rick’s shower and his removal of his (admittedly epic) beard cannot be overstated. It is an outward manifestation of his shedding of the metaphorical armor he fashioned around himself to shield against the horror of the world outside the walls, and a beginning of the return to some semblance of normalcy. In some ways, this could be a good thing, but in others, it could be dangerous. When Rick says “Good thing we’re here.”, its a not-so-subtle way or reminding viewers (as well as leadership of Alexandria) that he and the group brings needed toughness to the pampered residents of the enclave. As much as Rick and the survivors lack etiquette, the residents of Alexandria lack survival skills. As Rick says, “it’s all about survival now.”
On a side note: Andrew Lincoln’s acting work in this episode is tremendous. The subtle ways in which he demonstrates the momentary fragmentation of Rick’s psychological armor and how he rebuilds it as he moves through the episode are nothing short of brilliant. There is something almost psychotic in how he has begun to portray Rick, and seeing how that plays out over the remainder of this season (however little may be left with only a few more episodes to go) should be great to watch.
Where things get really interesting in attempting to predict where this may be headed is in examining the members of the group who either didn’t survive to this point in the comics or simply didn’t exist, namely Darryl and Carol. They are probably the two members who have adapted most to existing in the changed world and, as a result, it is reasonable to expect that they will be the people least ready to adapt to life in Alexandria. The fact that they are seen advising Rick in a moment where we see his paranoia and caution still evident is telling, as they represent the continued influence of the collective experience of the group during its time beyond the walls.
Darryl in particular is most resistant to the lifestyle within the walls. The sort of idealized suburban life is something he didnt want, even beige the world was taken over by the dead. Let us not forget that, in the world which came before, Rick-as-sheriff/constable is not someone whom Darryl would have worked well with. The outlaw nature of the life he and Merle led before the show would have precluded any sort of friendly relationship between Darryl and Rick. Whether their band-of-brothers relationship can survive in the cloistered environment of the Alexandria enclave will be intriguing to monitor, as Darryl represents the single biggest x-factor in terms of the long-term narrative of the show.
There are a number of notable visual elements in this episode. The sculpture of the Ferris wheel is a particularly interesting element, in that it could be seen as a representation of how the resident of Alexandria have existed above the fray, beyond the struggle and with the alternate and somewhat diffuse perspective such elevation entails. Consider also that the seats in the sculpture are empty, and that during it’s featured moments, Rick and the survivors have not yet embraced the “ride.”
Alexandria represents a major paradigm shift for The Walking Dead. Readers of the comics know it as the point in which the story begins to turn from one of survival towards one of rebuilding. Whether that holds true in the television version remains to be seen. Much will hinge on the decisions of Rick Grimes and the survivors and how they either adapt to life in Alexandria or force it to adapt to them. There is at least one mystery still to be solved, namely, what happened to the gun Rick deposited in a blender before entering Alexandria?
Despite it’s lack of any major action, the major shift in tone, the possibilities it opens up, and the continued excellence of Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes earns this episode of The Walking Dead a solid 8/10.